For better or for worse Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) are the parties that will - for the next 12 months - be negotiating the resolution of sovereignty in the West Bank with a view to ultimately creating a new independent Arab State between Israel and Jordan. These identical parties have been negotiating on the same issue for the last 14 years without the slightest sign of success.
One major reason has been the inability of the PLO to seriously change its mindset and specifically revoke or amend the offending provisions of the PLO Covenant that call for the destruction of Israel and that prevent the creation of this new State as envisioned by Oslo, former President Bill Clinton, President George Bush and his Quartet partners - Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
On 9 September 1993, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had made that written commitment to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin as the quid pro quo for the Oslo negotiating process to commence between Israel and the PLO and for the historic handshake between them on the White House lawns just four days later.
A long and tortuous process by Israel and America then followed to ensure Arafat’s total compliance with that commitment. On 14 December 1998 President Clinton stated:
“I thank you for your rejection—fully, finally and forever—of the passages in the Palestinian Charter calling for the destruction of Israel. For they were the ideological underpinnings of a struggle renounced at Oslo. By revoking them once and for all, you have sent, I say again, a powerful message not to the government, but to the people of Israel. You will touch people on the street there. You will reach their hearts there.”
Yet despite this declaration not one article of the Covenant has been revised or revoked to this very day nor has that message touched the Palestinian Arabs or reached their hearts.
The Chairman of the Palestine National Council charged with making those changes - Salim Za’anoun - stated on 3 February 2001, in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper, that the Covenant remained unchanged and was still in force [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida as translated by MEMRI]
A look at just three of the thirty three Articles in the PLO Covenant shows why it is essential that every Article be reviewed and altered if any meaningful negotiations can possibly be undertaken post Annapolis.
"Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people: it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation.”
This article ignores any Jewish rights in Palestine. Why not amend it to read as follows:
“ Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people and of the Jewish people,and the Arab Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation.”
“Palestine with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit”
This article absolutely prohibits President Bush’s two state solution and could be changed as follows:
“Palestine comprises the land contained within the boundaries that existed during the British Mandate from 1920-1948 and has now ceased to comprise an indivisible territorial unit. For purposes of clarification Palestine includes the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which comprised part of the British Mandate until 1946.”
“The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine and everything that has been based on them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism being a divine religion is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own: they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”
This article ignores the binding effect of international law and is racist, discriminatory and offensive in the extreme. It needs to be redrawn to perhaps read as follows:
“The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed legal and binding. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are compatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism is both a divine religion and an independent nationality. Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they can like Palestinian Arabs be citizens of the states to which they otherwise belong”
How can successful negotiations be concluded whilst this current unclear and confusing mindset confronts the PLO and Israeli negotiators? How have these provisions been specifically rejected by the PLO ?
The PLO needs to immediately face these demons and excise them unequivocally and indisputably from its thinking if the ongoing negotiations are to have any prospect of success.
This is not a question of semantic pettiness or nit picking. It goes to the very bona fides of Israel’s negotiating partner and the sincerity and seriousness with which it intends to conduct these negotiations.
Perhaps the first indication of this troubling mindset - and the effect it can have on the negotiations - was the following remarkable statement recently made by the PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat :
"One of the more pressing problems is the Zionist regime's insistence on being recognized as a Jewish state... Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but the PA would never acknowledge Israel's Jewish identity." [ Jerusalem Post, 14 November 2007]
Sweeping this - and similar recent statements by leading Arab spokesmen - under the carpet will only guarantee the failure of future negotiations. They will be difficult and complex enough - without such institutionalised mind blocks to reconciliation and recognition that had supposedly been dead and buried with President Clinton‘s declaration on 14 December 1998.
The PLO needs to liberate itself first before it can hope to liberate any land. Failure to do so over the last 14 years has seen its continuing decline in influence. It is now time to get serious and stop playing games.